This Summer, the Banker and I decided to drive from Berlin, through the former East Germany, and down into Prague. On our route was the city of Leipzig, two hours’ drive outside Berlin. I know the flea markets and antiques and vintage shops of Berlin quite well by now, so I was excited to visit another city – especially one that has a reputation for growing and being ‘the new Berlin’ culturally and creatively.
The city is full of contrasts between traditional (18th & 19th century, often Baroque) architecture and modern (Communist and later) architecture. And the same may be said of the antiques and vintage shops. There are around half a dozen in the city centre, and a couple spattered around the soutskirts. Most concentrate on ‘traditional’ antiques from the 19th and early 20th centuries, with jewellery and Art Nouveau glass and metalware being a focus. I didn’t find too much of interest in those shops, with prices being unsurprisingly ‘strong’, as there’s so much precedent for pricing.
One shop stood out far and above all of the others – Hinrich Sinn Dreizig. Tucked away in a small courtyard off a busy main street right in the heart of the city, it’s a total gem. And there are even ice cream shops and bars nearby to park bored partners or family! The owners Manuel and Carola are warm, welcoming, knowledgeable – and great fun! As we were perusing their stock together, Carola said to me that they only buy something to sell because it means something to them. She added that none of us need what they sell, but everything they do sell makes us smile, or sparks something inside us and our imaginations in some way. And I have to agree – my mind was sparked plenty of times! There are literally hundreds of different objects to browse and buy, in an enormous L-shaped shop with curving alcoves lining the walls.
Most of their stock dates from the 20th century, and has enormous eye-appeal backed up with (should you wish to delve into it) an academic angle, and – of course – great quality. The walls are lined with strong and vibrant pictures, from portraits to abstracts and landscapes. Cabinets contain everything from accessories for men and women (like vintage cufflinks, leather bags, and costume jewellery) to fabulous glass, ceramics and metalware. And it’s all displayed with amazing appealing artfulness. It’s colourful, achingly cool, and quality. If you’re visiting Leipzig – it’s a must. Did I buy? Yes I did. An interesting piece of mid-century modern glass and a small (3.25in / 8.3cm high) ceramic vase, which I’ll use as a pen pot, with a prewar sponged pattern like an abstract painting (below). Signed twice ‘LG 1980’ (not a date!) on the base and numbered 6915, it’s probably German, although I have no idea who made it yet – but I’ll find out.
On Sunday morning, we were lucky enough to coincide with the monthly flea market at the Alte Messe, a short drive out of the city centre. It was like going from pole to pole after Hinrich Sinn Dreizig! Held in the shadow of the Leipzig City Archive building, topped with a Communist red star, there were well over 150 stands selling literally everything. A few professional dealers use it to clear stock, but most of it by bulk was secondhand homewares, furniture and pictures. And, despite the threatened rain, it was busy – very busy!
I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more design pieces from the Communist period of the 1950s-80s, but there were a few interesting objects amongst the ‘junk’ although they tended to spot me as a tourist and quote accordingly. Otherwise, prices tended to be low, with plenty of cardboard boxes to rummage through where each thing was €1 – or less. Some dealers made an effort to display their wares, but for most it’s just rows of boxes, with some choice pieces displayed on folding tables. A proper flea market!
What did I buy? Well, I can’t resist the charm of an antique teddy bear, and this bear really has the cutest expression – true kawaii. Not only that, but he had been loved so much by his first owner that his arm had torn and fallen off, and was then repaired professionally so he could continue being someone’s best friend. Now named ‘Leipzig’, he was certainly made in Germany in the 1920s-30s, but I can’t find the maker despite his characteristic mohair covered flat foot paws. It’s stupid as I’m a grown adult, but my heart just couldn’t leave him behind in the rain. He came home with me, together with a 1930s blue rhinestone pin in the shape of a star, for a princely €10.
While you’re there, I can also heartily recommend visiting the Grassi Museum. I wasn’t quite prepared for the incredible selection of works on display, some of which were bought when they were brand new from international expositions that were held in the same building in the past. In a very Germanic manner, the displays are entirely logical, being chronologically based. As a pro-tip, check out the museum guidebooks you can borrow at the start of each major section – the write-ups about the displays were amongst the most concise and intelligent histories of movements in the decorative arts and designers that I have ever read. It’s also the chance to see some Central European and East German design that isn’t displayed in other museums. The building itself, built as an exhibition hall for a city historically known for its vast selling exhibitions, is also pretty stunning in places.
I’ll be back. Leipzig (the city, not the bear) is certainly worth a weekend away and has an easy laid-back vibe that allows you to truly chill out between shopping for antique and vintage.